I was contacted out-of-the-blue yesterday by several people interested in Michael A. Butera, until this week the CEO and executive director of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME). Butera was at an April 26 meeting arranged by the National Endowment for the Arts to discuss diversity and inclusion.
Another participant was Keryl McCord of Alternate ROOTS, who reported on the organization’s web site that Butera had said, “Blacks and Latinos lack the keyboard skills needed for this field.” Butera later stated that McCord’s portrayal of the discussion was “deeply inaccurate,” but at least one other individual present, Jesse Rosen, president and CEO of the League of American Orchestras, confirmed McCord’s story. Howard Sherman of the Arts Integrity Initiative provided an in-depth back-and-forth of the competing accounts.
NAfME placed Butera on administrative leave and, after a speedy investigation, announced that the organization and Butera had “agreed that he will not be returning.” That caught the attention of the New York Times.
How does all this work around to me? Well, Butera was once the executive director of the Maryland State Education Association and the Wisconsin Education Association Council before gaining a position as the National Education Association’s northeast regional director. In March 2008, he was abruptly dismissed from that position – an action so unusual and unexpected that delegates to the NEA convention that year submitted a new business item that would have required NEA to notify local and state leaders about the reasons why a regional employee was fired. That NBI was withdrawn before reaching the floor, leaving most insiders and all outsiders in the dark about Butera’s ouster.
I never learned what happened in 2008, but NEA and its affiliates are notoriously quiet about its personnel decisions, so that isn’t strange. Still, if this thing has any legs, I expect someone will eventually come forward.